FRA Issue Update - 6/5/20

Paycheck Protection Program Modifications

Late Wednesday, the Senate moved House-passed legislation that would significantly modify the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The bill, H.R. 7010, accomplishes two primary objectives. First, it would allow loan funds to be paid over a 24-week period or by December 31st, whichever is sooner. The current window is eight weeks, which was not workable for companies that have been closed or only partially open. Second, the legislation lowers the percentage of loan funds that need to be dedicated to payroll from the current 75 percent to 60 percent. Importantly, this is now a cliff threshold for forgiveness, meaning that if 60 percent spent on payroll is not reached, none of the loan will be forgiven. 

Other notable provisions in the bill include:

  • Language allowing any portion of the loan amount not forgiven to be repaid over five years, instead of the current two years, and the interest rate remains at one percent.
  • Borrowers can use the 24-week period to restore their workforce levels and wages by December 31st, a change from the previous June 30th deadline.
  • Businesses that receive a PPP loan can also delay payment of their payroll taxes, which was previously prohibited under the CARES Act.

The President has indicated he will sign this legislation.

Bipartisan Climate Change Legislation Introduced

On Thursday, Senators Mike Braun (R-IN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced legislation titled the Growing Climate Solutions Act. The bill seeks to eliminate currently existing barriers for farmers and forest landowners to participate in carbon trading markets that reward carbon sequestering practices.  

The current carbon trading programs are confusing and intimidating to many forest landowners and farmers. To address this issue, the bill establishes a Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification Program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Through the program, USDA will help connect landowners to private sector entities who can assist interested landowners in implementing the protocols and monetizing the climate value of their sustainable practices. As part of the program, USDA will administer a new website that will serve as a one-stop shop for information and resources that will help forest landowners and farmers engage in these carbon markets that can be a lucrative source of alternative income. Additional information on the bill can be found here.

H-2B Guestworker Visas

Last week, we reported on a letter from Senate leaders to the Administration recognizing the importance of H-2B guestworkers to the forest products industry. FRA has also been a part of a broader communication effort to the Administration as part of the larger H-2B Coalition. This week, we were waiting on the decision by the President on the possible restrictions to guestworker programs in response to high unemployment rates. 

The President’s April Executive Order temporarily restricting immigration was focused towards immigrants who were coming to the United States with the intent of staying through the green card system. Of course the H-2B program is for guestworkers that come to the United States for a temporary period of time; however, temporary visa programs like H-2B have the potential to be looped together with the larger immigration issue. 

Both the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security have reportedly reviewed the guestworker programs and prepared suggestions for the President on how to stimulate the hiring of U.S. workers and the improve the economy per the President’s request. Those recommendations have not been released, and we do not know at this time the outcome of the discussions. Our sources think it is unlikely the guestworker programs will be shut down all together as the employment data does not support such a move. We also know that the Department of Homeland Security already temporarily loosened some rules for the H-2B program, recognizing that H-2B workers provide essential services. Although a shutdown of the H-2B program seems unlikely, it could be we see new requirements in the program, such as additional advertising of available jobs and a change in the timing of labor market tests. We will continue to keep you apprised of this fluid situation. 

If you have any questions, please contact FRA’s Director, Government Affairs Tim O’Hara, (218) 390-7965, [email protected] or FRA President Deb Hawkinson, (202) 296-3937, [email protected].